Today, two of Chicago's favorite baseball players -- the Cubs' Kerry Wood, and the White Sox's Nick Swisher -- have seen their eras in Chicago end. Swisher's ended via a trade to the New York Yankees; Wood's is effectively finished by the Cubs' trade for Marlins closer Kevin Gregg.
The two played on opposite sides of town, and had almost diametrically opposite paths toward Chicago in 2008. Wood, the longest-tenured current Cub, was drafted by the Cubs in 1995. In 1998, he became an instant star (and a lifetime resident of the "I remember that game!" club) when he threw a one-hit, no-walk, 20-strikeout performance in his fifth start. Even then, Wood was already the Cubs' future.
Of course, we all know what happened next: Tommy John surgery, the 2003 collapse, the 2004 disaster, a couple more nagging injuries, and that was that. Like Mark Prior, Kerry Wood was a cautionary tale, the sad end of another disappointing chapter in Cubs history.
Yet Wood didn't go the way of Prior. He recovered from the injuries and made his comeback in 2008 as the Cubs' full-time closer. Not only did he stay healthy, he posted a 1.085 WHIP, notched 34 saves, and made the All-Star team on the winningest Cubs team of his career. The talented Texan with the goatee was fully resurrected -- a skinnier, smarter, and (thankfully) more closely shaven version of his former self.
Nick Swisher, of course, doesn't have nearly as much history with the White Sox. Long regarded in baseball circles as one of the more underrated players in the majors thanks to his high on-base percentage, Swisher was traded from the A's in the 2007-08 offseason. Upon arriving in Chicago, Swisher didn't replicate that reputation. He hit .219/.332/.410, and posted the first sub-100 OPS+ of his career.
Different trajectories, to be sure, but despite that, both shared one common trait: gosh darn it, people liked them. Wood was respected in a quiet way. Rather than leaving the Cubs prematurely or grasping at the first possible free agent offer, Wood did his recovery in Chicago, signed small incentives-laden deals, and earned his money. His 2008 season was a 162-game validation -- both of Cubs' fans seemingly misplaced faith in him, and of the occasional rewards of persistence. Cubs fans won't forget that.
Nick Swisher, on the other hand, made his fans in a hurry. Few baseball players are as naturally charismatic as Swisher, and few are as well-tailored to the specific style of the Chicago White Sox -- you know, "grinderball," all that. There's a culture on the South Side, one that favors a certain blue collar ethic, and Swisher got it. It helps that he did everything the White Sox asked of him, even when it was obvious that late-season trade Ken Griffey, Jr. was a vastly inferior defensive (and, at times, offensive) player. It takes serious love not to get criticized when you hit .219. Swisher pulled it off.
Swisher's was a one-year tour. Wood's spanned a decade. But their respective fan bases will miss them all the same.